African Liberation Day and Martyrs Day: What Would Taju Have Said to Our Politicians

By: Alison Ayetoranire Byamukama

Let me use this opportunity to remember my former boss and mentor, prescription Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (Taju as he was popularly called) the former Secretary General of the Global Pan African Movement and well known to many Ugandans.

He was also a Director of Justice Africa, a deputy Director of the United Nations millennium Campaign for Africa as well as a writer for newspapers and journals across Africa.

He died in a motor accident in Kenya on 25th May 2009 the same day of the African Liberation when he was rushing to attend a Pan African activity in Rwanda.

He always sent his famous “postcard” to the media where he used to “tell the truth to power”, as he usually joked. I’m sure he would have sent one or two disparaging ones to a few politicians on the continent on such a day reminding them not to divert from pan African ideals. In case of Uganda, I guess it would have gone like this:

The months of May and June are always significant months for Africans in general and Ugandans in particular. Africans in general celebrate African liberation day (25th May) and Ugandans celebrate Martyrs day (June 3).

There is also the National Heroes day (June 9) in Uganda. Liberation day is when the then 32 independent African states met in Addis Ababa to form the OAU. Unlike in Uganda, Martyrs day in other countries such as Malawi, India, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam etc is (like Uganda’s Heroes day of 9th June) a day observed to salute the martyrdom of soldiers who lost their lives in defending the sovereignty of their nations.

In Uganda, Martyrs day commemorates the 45 mostly young Ugandan men who converted to Christianity between 1885 and1887 defying the authority of the king. This infuriated the king so much that he ordered death on them as punishment.

Our king (politician) had failed to realize that on earth, he could not be both the King and the God (the creator).

Politics and spirituality cannot be mingled without one destroying the other. The martyrs knew there was a difference, the king did not. Hence, resistance and death as a consequence.

Most of African politicians and religious leaders have not appreciated this dichotomy hence continued human hemorrhage on our continent through religious extremism, religious discrimination, tribal hatred and ethnic institutionalization by the political elite all around.

When Pope Francis visited the region in 2015 he demonstrated unity in religion and the need to separate politics from religion; he did not only visit the Anglican shrine in Uganda but visited and prayed in a mosque in Central Africa Republic.

Have all our current politicians and religious leaders learnt the value of unity in diversity? Can they take a cue from the Pope if not from our progressive politicians? Can they become politicians without first turning ethnic and religious extremists?

Our political fore fathers liberated Africa without using ethnicity or religion. Now Africa is politically liberated from colonialism although not yet mentally and economically decolonized.

So the struggle continues, though in a different form. Politically, this particular May is also significant to Ugandans because we swore in our democratically elected President and the 10th parliament. We are fortunate because our President understands and appreciates liberation politics and he is a convinced and pragmatic pan Africanist.

In Pan Africanism, solidarity and common purpose for all Africans to get out of poverty, ignorance and disease are the mantra and there is a staunch opposition to the ideology of religious, racial, tribal and ethnic superiority in all overt and covert guises.

In the unifying struggles for liberation, there was no room for tribe and religion mingling with politics. Political goals devoid of these vices were identified and clearly defined. That is why we now boast of the whole of Africa being decolonized and the focus being collectively towards the “fourth industrial Revolution” and entry into middle class economy.

But can we be propelled into middle income status with some politicians in our parliaments and other offices thriving on and invoking primordial religious, ethnic and tribal discrimination to win political positions and contestations?  The situations of Central Africa Republic, South Sudan, DRC, Burundi and others do not give us enough assurances.

In Uganda here, progressives are many but still people think that without Museveni, Uganda will not be like Tanzania without Nyerere. It could instead be Ivory Coast without Boigny, Guinea without Toure or Somalia without Bare and other countries that were torn by religious and ethnic conflicts after wars of liberation and end of one party leadership.

This is simply because we Ugandans have a high propensity to appeal to ethnic and religious majorities every time there is a political contestation and the State never takes deliberate steps to sustainably reverse this.

We tested this reality during elections time. Poison politicians return to normal after elections only to swing into original ethnic and religious cocoons during the next elections.  When there is temporally peace, the state is simply bandaging and not treating the wound of ethnicity and religions discrimination. Is this conducive for sustainable peace in our country?

Even when President Museveni warned at the top of his voice against these vices during elections, he sounded a lone voice as many unscrupulous politicians used subterranean methods to defeat the condemnation.

As we talk there are many unnoticed political martyrs in the villages that resisted negative politics of religion and ethnicity. They are now suffering excommunication from the church and denial of sacraments.

Many, this time were persecuted not by political gods (kings) but religious leaders in cohort with politicians for having resisted the illegal and ungodly directives. May these days bring a sense of shame and repentance to the culprits.

One of those pan Africanists of the 1963 liberation day era was Mwalimu Julius Nyerere from whom any politician worth his salt should drink the water of martyrdom and liberation. He taught, planned, and practiced, tested and espoused freedom, unity, solidarity and sainthood to the hilt. And for that, Tanzania is still united without him.

One of our Tanzanian friends told us that there are some politicians in Tanzania who during every election time invoke religious and ethnic differences here and there. But every time, they try it, most Tanzanians frown at them and they fizzle out.

I just watched one of Nyerere’s addresses to the Tanzanian parliament in 1995 where he despises what he calls Udini /Ubaguzi wa dini (religious discrimination) and Ukabila (tribalism). Even a non-Kiswahili speaker like me could not (by gestures alone) fail to notice the low esteem he held of those who would want to reinvent tribalism and religious discrimination in Tanzania.

Yet, he still told them that he always carried two books on him-one with a spiritual purpose and another with political purpose; the Bible and the Arusha Declaration (Azimio ya Arusha).

We might not eliminate unscrupulous politicians in Uganda but we certainly can minimize their impact as we get them feel ashamed. Let us start by all of us frowning at them every time our ethnic and religious politicians emerge to confuse our unsuspecting masses.

In the meantime true movementists must move to communicate to the public early enough in order to steel them against religious and ethnic manipulators before the next elections.

Happy African Liberation day, happy martyrs’ day and Happy Heroes day.

RIP Taju.

The writer is a Human Rights Specialist


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